The 2019 Glastonbury Poetry Slam!

Hosted by Brian McMahon Gallagher and Thunderclap Murphy,  the Glastonbury Festival Poetry Slam kicks off as the final event of the weekend. And it’s clear from the get-go that we’re in experienced hands with the hosts.

They divide those who’ve signed up (and turned up) into two groups of six.

Group 1

Lisa Goodwin (“Runner up last time. Bard of Glastonbury”) lambasts those who leave plenties of trace at Glastonbury, gets straight into it: “someone will pick up the bits”. It’s feisty and crafted – I can see why she got so far last time. The crowd love it.

Liam Young (“I’m speechless”) – Liam Young of the Deviated Septums, never intended to do it, but some Glastonbury magic happened. It’s put out to all the people who never believed in him, hip-hop inflected but slower than that implies. Crowd more subdued, but still enthused

Sunny Jim (@_SunnyJim) (“Environmental Spoken Word”) reads from his phone – something he wrote specially for the occasion. Like Lisa’s, it’s an ode to the magic (and possibly the hypocrisy) of the Glastonbury culture and the possibility – not always picked up – to let go of the frantic nature of everyday life.

Amy Rainbow (“Very happy to be at Glastonbury”) – sharing a poem about one woman’s search for love. It’s clever, gentle, and manages to have an -ate rhyme at the end of every line – well, except the last one. I’m still chuckling (as are the rest of the crowd)… 🙂

Andria Walton (@AndrianaWalton1) (“Lergy (seriously?! poets have interesting writing!) sharing poetry and diversity”) – there’s always a war, and she talks about the history of man’s greed and pillaging, and a call to renew, regenerate, revive, and become sustainable (there’s a theme developing in this slam!)

While the judges are totting up scores, Brian reminds us that, “when great British institutions need hosts, they go Irish – Graham Norton, Terry Wogan, Dara O’Briain,” then gives us a poem about Dublin and toxic masculine culture, homophobia (internalised as well as more broadly cultural).

Aidan “Thunderclap” Murphy comes to the stage with “the all important scores from Group 1”: Liam Young in 2nd place and Lisa Goodwin in 1st place go through to the next round. The audience can vote for the audience prize for someone who should have gone further, in their opinion…

Martin Grey (@martin_grey_poet) (“Nottingham’s best poet from Guildford”) – gives us Dancefloor, an terpsichorean ode to the magic of a favourite nightclub and music and friends and how memories stay etched in sweat and chord progressions.

Torrey Shineman (@TorreyShine) (“Witty wordsmith from across the pond.”) – launches into “If you can’t be comfortable doing naked handstands in front of me, I don’t think this is going to work…” and it talks about body shame and pride and makes the most of gestures and body language (heh). The crowd very much dig it!

Sophie Shepherd (@sophherdpoem) – The A5204 – a tale of being run over by a commuter on a scooter in London, imagining that the commuter has worked hard and worked out that she’s a poet and his bitterness at not being able to get his drama out of his system with, you know, actual drama, leads him to only being able to express himself with rage.

Jason Butler (“Lyrical [indecipherable] lurid” – poets, please learn a wee bit penmanship!) – “Excuse the voice, I’ve been having it quite large this weekend!” and then sets into a poem about his dog chasing a bird. This seemingly innocuous tale (“know your limitations, dog, you can’t fly!”), turns out to be him talking to himself, stifling his own dreams. Metaphor, kids! Ooh, the crowd love that!

Carl Burkitt (@carlburkitt) – “This is, er, this is a breakup poem…” and it starts exactly like a classic “my heart is a brick made of pain” (that’s me, not him, by the way) poem, both in words and delivery and then it turns out it’s an ode of farewell for… his foreskin… I literally shriek with laughter, then continue to lose it (like the crowd) as he then takes us through his pain and then his happiness at discovering that foreskins aren’t all that. I couldn’t tell you any of the allusions as I was too busy losing any shred of cool I once possessed, a mess of sniggers.

Bertram: That Geezabird (“70% Skittles”) launches into their dancey rap Confusion, concluding that not only are they confused, but so is everyone they know and so are we. Fair point. Magically, the bass beat outside synchronises briefly with them. People start bopping to their driving rhythm, and send them off with cheer.

Now Brian gives us a poem about the Marriage Equality referendum in Ireland. It’s heartfelt and important, and – luckily – reflected in the reality of the good decision that Ireland made.

Aidan brings us the scores from Group 2 – 2nd place Carl Burkitt and 1st place Torrey Shineman go through to the final.

Oooooooh…! It’s all to play for! They now hand out sheets of paper so that the audience can write down who they liked who didn’t get through and why they should be given a special mention. It’s genial chaos and very Glastonbury. Paper there is aplenty, but few scribbling sticks. Brian has my pen; I’m keeping an eye on it…

Torrey Shineman kicks off the final with a dismissal of the dismissal of #MeToo conflating “serious and childish” events. She makes sure we know it’s all part of the same spectrum. It’s visceral and terrifying and “If you can’t feel the heat, maybe you’ve been in the kitchen too long and you think this warmth is normal” it grabs you in the chest and every inner part. The crowd love it.

Liam Young is next with an introduction that tells us that his parents encouraged him to join the RAF, and his dallying with student (drugs) culture, the poem is called Dropping Bombs Is Not The Answer. It’s about refugees, empathy, hypocrisy, and institutional lies – “Dropping bombs is not the answer, it’s like curing AIDS by spreading cancer.” The crowd love this too!

Carl Burkitt is next with a tribute to line in a Paul Simon song “he sees angels in the architecture” It’s called Forty-Nine Rubbish Lines I Would Probably Have Written Without Ever Getting To That Line If I’d Tried to Write You Can Call Me Al – I mean, probably; I lost it by then. It’s a litany of dreadful puns and alliteration combined. I’m weak again, as are the hosts and audience.

Lisa Goodwin finishes us off with a true story about a educational seminar talking about the trouble with children, lambasting the idea that we can ram people into boxes, cut off the bits that don’t fit from early on off “those opting out of the prospectus of correctness”. The crowd shriek for the joy of identifying with “children in chaos” and all the potential they bring.

Brian now takes to the stage to read out the reasons people listed as to why they wanted to hear more from/ particularly liked the performers. It turns out lots of people have terrible writing – not just poets. I’m going to see how many of them I can grab and post on here (on a later post – I’m keen to get on with my Festival!).

We’re running under time. Somehow. Again. So Brian draws some names of the people who didn’t get through to the final to read a second poem. We get Bertram: That Geezabird (a track about being a starving artist: Art), Amy Rainbow (a piece about being vegan, despite her clearly massive love for cheese: Intolerance), Jason Butler (a piece about love at first sight: The Penny Dropped), Martin Grey (a found poem from the website sponsorthisroundabout.com), Sophie Shepherd (a poem about her hairy legs: Your Beautiful Legs). Then they invite Scott to the stage to give a poem about his son, Toby (the lovely one about the doll: Snapping Back).

Talking of Toby, the hosts ask him to announce the prizes (which he does with extraordinary aplomb!) while Helen hands them over.

Joint 3rd are Carl Burkitt and Liam Young, which gets awkward, as the prize is a rosette, which is pinned to the pair of them…

2nd is Torrey Shineman

And the 2019 Glastonbury Poetry&Words Slam Champion, returning to the Festival next year, and taking away a gorgeous trophy, is Lisa Goodwin, who gives us a victory lap in the form of a piece outlining the transformation from a poet to a bard with the story of Gwion Bach (and, of course, Taliesin).

And that’s it! We’re done and dusted for the year, with a new Slam Champion, new friends, new memories, and some new life skills…!

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Friday Part 2

Compere Dominic Berry kicks us off with one of my favourite poems of his (I Will Not Treat My Friend Like An iPod), roaring us into excited appreciation of poetry (Bowie on the Pyramid Stage makes another appearance as an inducement to whoops)

Paula Varjack makes the best entrance through the saloon doors, glorious in gold lame and attitude, and she launches into the dark, burlesque rant of Commodity, following it up with My Country, and then her piece about strip clubs, covering race, international culture, shame, sexuality, self-definition, identity, the masks of intimacy and expression acroas her pieces. Paula blends confession and storytelling, summoning the audience closer for something new and even more visceral about her first experience of London queer culture, written for seminal London club Heaven. It’s wonderfully, horribly reminiscent of my own first 90s gay club experience (except that I had a straight mate who insisted on dragging me out for my birthday, and I didn’t get off with anyone, and this was the only gay club in Cardiff and… you know what? never mind…), with a fantastic soundtrack I want to dance to as though I’m in my 20s again (don’t worry – I still dance like that; it doesn’t take much; I probably will later). She checks that the parent of the one child in the audience is fine with hedonistic sex and drugs references to finish us off. This is Glastonbury. They’re fine. We’re all fine. And I’m never going to look at coffee the same way again…

Dominic gives us The Beleaguered Vegan, a barnstormer of a poem which talks of uncomfortable facts about meat and dairy production.

Brian McMahon Gallagher takes to the stage (again through the batwings to induced roars from the audience) to launch into a piece about how Shakespeare is shite, and how true love isn’t proved by “topping yourself after your first shag.” It meanders via toxic masculinity and gender roles, and concludes that maybe true love isn’t depicted that often is because true love might be boring. Then he suggests he gets his panic attack poem out of the way (apparently all poets have a panic attack poem; wish I’d known – that might have made my own a little easier to bear – maybe Irish poets are more forthcoming), followed by getting his Irish poem out of the way (his term!), written for the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Republic – Was It For This? Toxic masculinity and homophobia (internalised and externalised) thread through the next few poems as well.

Dominic Berry brings us his poems about video games and social anxiety next, then encourages us to scream for Erin, as though Bowie, Prince, and Keith Flint had formed a supergroup.

Erin Fornoff takes to the stage, shimmying through the batwings to the twirl of harp music, and launches into that poem of hers that I love immoderately – Home – followed up by a classic #MeToo/ #TimesUp poem about the kind of subtextual casting couch abuse that successful men love to sow as ways to get into less powerful people’s heads and pants (don’t go to lunch with Peter Sheridan, is the advice – and yes, I have permission to blog that!). She excels in word portraits in a few spare words, vignette after vignette scrolling by like you’re meeting people in her life, limned with her love. She talks about loss in such a fluid, beautiful way that it eases it, somehow. I’d love to bring her poetry with me, and apparently, I’ll have a chance to buy her book (Hymn To The Reckless, named after a gorgeous poem that’s love and fire and the glory of the memorably ephemeral). Guess I know where my cash is going (unless she’s up for a book swap). How about you?

(My phone is being peculiar about media uploads, but there should be a video of Erin at this point – hopefully I can get it in tomorrow!)

Dominic tells us that he finds lots of hope at Glastonbury Festival, tries to bottle it and bring it with him in the rest of his life. This informs the next two poems.

Eve Piper takes to the stage after Dominic asks us to give the same amount of applause as if Donald Trump stepped down from politics. She asks who of us are single (or keeping our options open), segues into her property-marking poem about love bites. It’s fascinating to hear a poem that’s very reminiscent of the Bristol poetry sound in a Mancunian accent. The next piece is one of those letters to someone who’s done something that’s “punishable by poem”. It’s that poem that hooked me when I was researching her for the preview article – Taxi Driver. Articulate rage used in the best way and for reasons that no-one should have to celebrate escape. She reveals that the mental health is so poor for Bristol University that it’s measured, at its worst, in a suicide rate (which she landmarks as a trigger warning) that sounds to me closer to that of the armed forces. The anger here is quieter, close to despair, again the voice of someone who’s escaped, painting a visceral picture that drowns out the Latin beats outside thumping under her words. Class war, gender disparity, and the violence of silence rings through her work. And a love for rave. Lush!

(Again with the video upload fail – apologies!)

Tony Walsh takes to the stage after a heartfelt and passionate intro from Dominic, and gets us happy and cheering with a cheerful celebration of festival life (adapted from a Kendal Calling poem) and moves onto a rousing ode to John Peel, Keeping It Peel (I think it might have a longer title…). (And then I have to run out, because the glamour of this job is picking between watching one of your favourite poets or having a wee. I did get to tell John Hegley backstage that his shorts suited him (he was debating with his friend about changing for the stage); I don’t think he heard me.) When I’m back, he’s giving a typically wordplay-rich, rhymetastic ode to the joy of movies… no, it’s about the British arts scene. It’s an anthem to the joy and work and connection that art brings – entertainment, wealth, occupation, culture, representation from the stadium-fillers to the tiniest local open mic or art exhibition. We want to roar along with him: “Witness the richness, we’re poorer without this!” and stand together, as he urges, all artforms together against austerity, not talking about how funding is dividing up between art, health, and education, but we should be taking our rage back to “whoever stole the cake in the first place”. Now it’s a ranting, frantic, magic tribute to glam rock, and how any music can represent and lift up everyone from everywhere, of any background or demographic. And for his mate Dennis from the Strummerville Stage (and for Joe Strummer of course) it’s a Shakespearean sonnet using Clash lyrics! I’ve don’t think I’ve ever heard a more dynamic sonnet; I’d honestly forgotten it was that form until the final couplet. His final poem is quieter, and yet as anthemic as anything that’s gone before, reminding us that we’re all love, all connected, all divine. We can make it better, we can make it better, we can make it better… And after that set (hell, after even one of those poems), we can believe it!

(Another video missing here – ah, Glastonbury!)

Headliner John Hegley takes to the stage with typical diffidence, a ukelele with a smiling face built in, and what looks like a knitted potato with an orange bobble hat. On second glance it might be a hamster. We are instructed to sing “Dancing!” at the right point. We are then further instructed to sing it correctly (rising note on the second syllable). “Enough of the fun – now for some poetry.” Riddles (some with rhyming clues, others without) are shared with us. It’s hard to say whether he looks more disappointed when we get it right or wrong (the final one – depression – is guessed at by one wit as “Boris Johnson”, to a wry dismissal). Every single one of these pieces demands audience participation of some kind, and it’s picked up with increasing enthusiasm and deftness, just in time for Martin to join him with a guitar and a tale of how we should all be helpful, like Martin.

When he says snail instead of slug and we pitch in with the salute to the snail he namechecks a delighted Tony Walsh and tells us that “we must fail with aplomb”. There’s plenty more chances to fail in the many (including new) gestures to accompany Guillemot, and in picking a translator to turn his short story into English. Nicky steps up to the plate gloriously, and we see Mr. Hegley smile for the first time, frankly flirtatiously. In the course of finding an interpreter, I spot Baden (namechecked by Mr. Hegley) from my first days of poetry in Northampton. The world of poetry is ridiculously small. After a couple of lovely, deceptive wee poems where we’re invited to fill in the rhyme (except sometimes it’s not a rhyme, or it is, against expectation – I’ve never enjoyed being persistently wrongfooted so much!

Finally, for crowd favourite Luton Bungalow, we join in happily in our sections – it’s such a lovely, warm time, and… wait, it’s only the final piece if we don’t ask them back for a spontaneously prepared encore! Martin and John leave, returning to a rapturous standing ovation (from those of us easily able to rise!) to give an actually spontaneous rendition of Spectacles as requested by an audience member, and then one which name I missed in all the fun of a five section chorus about different types of birds. The words of the verses form a sober, loving meditation on death and the meaning of life, family, legacy, and connection, and a wonderful end to a gorgeous set that fled by too fast.

(For some reason, my phone won’t let me upload photos and videos of Mr. Hegley. I’ll try again tomorrow!)

Introducing: Glastonbury Festival Poetry Slam, hosted by Brian McMahon Gallagher and Thunderclap Murphy


And to finish everything off is the famous Glastonbury Festival Poetry Slam, 17:00-19:00 Sunday. If it’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

Important points the organisers would like you to note:

  • Sign ups are once the tent opens on site (11:30 Friday 28th). No early sign ups. Nope, not even for you!
  • Booked poets can’t perform in either this or the open mic, so this is a chance to air/ hear new voices.
  • 12 poets for sign up plus 3 reserves.
  • Poets don’t have to memorise poems, but memorisation will be credited.
  • If you’ve signed up for the competition, you must present yourself at the side stage by 16:50 on the day or you will lose your spot.
  • The five judges will be a cross section of poets/ musicians/ performance artists, with the weighting being on poets. i.e. 3 poets, 1 musician, 1 other performance type person.
  • The slam prizes are: a spot in next year’s programme, and an awesome unique trophy designed by Pete Hunter of Apples & Snakes (see photos above).

Brian MacMahon Gallagher and Thunderclap Murphy will be your hosts, and their decisions re: any of the above administrative points will be final.

Fay’s words:

I love me a slam. My first introduction to performance poetry that wasn’t in Welsh/ someone else’s words/ both was watching my brother, and other competitors, slam in what turned out to be one of the earliest UK slams in Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre in the mid-90s. Of course, competitive poetry recitation is something we Welsh had been doing for centuries (see Chairing of the Bard, and the modern Welsh Eisteddfodau tradition for examples – yes, 200 years old is the modern version…), but this was dynamic, and sharp, and immediate and – more importantly – democratic; each event’s bard chosen by the acclaim of the people.

Almost exactly three years after I moved to England to the day, I entered a slam for the first time, mostly as a favour to a friend. It was a bit of a turning point. Say what you like about slams (and I have), but they’re an amazing way into poetry for a lot of people – performers and punters. I’ve been running slams for {checks memory; whoa!} twelve years now, and am showing no signs of stopping. People bring something unique and adrenaline-fuelled to slams, and the audience gets very invested in the outcome. This year’s Glastonbury Poetry&Words Slam will be no exception, with a pretty amazing prize plus epic bragging rights. I’m looking forward more than I can say to the finale of this year’s Glastonbury Poetry&Words!

Introducing: Brian McMahon Gallagher

Brian McMahon Gallaher from thejournal.ie

Photo courtesy of thejournal.ie

Performing for the first time with us is Brian McMahon Gallagher, 16:05-16:30 Friday; hosting slam 17:00-19:00 Sunday . If he’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In his own words:

“Brian McMahon Gallagher is a Dublin Based poet and Slam Sunday co-host. As a poet, Brian has performed at the First Fortnight, Electric Picnic, Latitude, and Cuirt International Literary Festivals, and has performed with the Arts Group ‘Outstraight’ at festivals and shows throughout Britain and Ireland. He is also the host of LemmeTalk, a monthly open mic that takes place in ‘Poetry Ireland’.”

Fay’s words:

Another new poet to me, so back to the magic ot the internet to track down the sparse few examples of his wordcraft, YouTube doing me fewer favours than the Near FM Podcast. And it’s through this that I’ve discovered a gloriously sweary, young, Irish poet with pieces that take on some of the more egregious elements of Irish/ Dublin culture, from the personal to the political (and where that intersects, naturally). He rams a machine-gun clatter of words into short spaces, and none of them wasted. And he’s sweary as hell, which I loved (sometimes you only get to see/ hear the most sanitised, expurgated versions of people online); his passion is undeniable, and it’s wonderful to see it in service to some of the most important issues facing Ireland (and humanity), from the small to the crushingly broad. I’m really looking forward to see that febrile energy let loose in the Poetry&Words tent next month!

He’ll also be hosting the slam on Sunday with Thunderclap Murphy, about which more later.

Sneak preview: